Riesling – The Maligned Vine

This is a story of how one of the Noblest grape varieties has had its reputation maligned and sullied.

Riesling is one of the truly great grape varieties that can do it all; dry, yes you read that right, dry, through to lusciously sweet and everything in between. Its reputation is mostly based on the sweet bulk wines produced in Germany in the late 20th century even though most of these wines were blends of the inferior, lesser-known varieties Silvaner and Muller-Thurgau.

These wines not only tarnished the reputation of Riesling but also German wines in general, leading consumers from around the world to believe that all German produced wine is medium sweet or sweet, despite the fact that Germany now produces more dry white wine than it has ever done.

German Mosel Vineyards

The vineyards that follow the contours of the Rhine and Mosel rivers are steep sided, slate lined and terraced to allow for the maximum exposure to sunlight. The slate works in a couple of different ways firstly it absorbs the heat of the sun, then acting like a electric blanket it then releases the heat warming the soil and encouraging the vines to grow in the early spring, but in the Autumn the warmth helps to extend the ripening season, secondly the vines absorb the minerals that are within the slate aiding the complexity of the wine.

As these two mighty rivers trace their way through Germany they take in some of the iconic regions like the Rheingau, Pfalz, Rheinhessen and the Mosel producing delicate, refreshing dry whites with crisp acidity and unsurpassable complexity.

Riesling is now planted all over the world, from Alsace to Australia, California to South America.

Across the border in France’s Alsace region Riesling is the most widely planted grape variety and considered to be one of the best, producing a fuller slightly richer style but still being dry. Yet again consumers jump to the conclusion the wines are sweet because of the Germanic style bottle of the Alsace flute. Sweeter and richer styles are made, on the label the wording ‘Vendanges Tardives’ and ‘Selection de Grains Noble’ will appear, these are made by reducing the yield in the vineyard in order to achieve a higher sugar level and in turn the finished wine is sweeter.

Australian Riesling Grapes

Down under, Australia’s Eden and Clare Valleys are the two best known regions producing premium Riesling. The Clare Valley has developed a style all with its distinctive “lime cordial” aroma and producing a dry or off dry style.  While in Eden Valley using the Barossa ranges to give altitude for the vineyards, this height gives a cooler climate which has the effect of a slowing ripening of the grapes, the vineyards like the ones in Germany are orientated towards the sunlight to lengthen the growing season which gives greater depth of concentration in the juice which in turn gives the finished wine greater depth of flavour and concentration.

Chile and Argentina are not well known for their Riesling production at the moment but more is starting to be produced, especially Chile. They favour a drier style and with the mighty Andes mountain range separating the two countries the potential to use the height of the Andes to find cool climate vineyards is exciting for the future of this noblest of grapes!